We’re seeing more and more discussion about the link between social media use and the rise in cases of anxiety and depression. Only recently has it been revealed that Facebook covered up a secret research project where teenagers blamed Instagram for increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Anxiety according to the NHS is a feeling of unease, such as worry and fear that can be mild or severe. While depression according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is persistent sadness and a lack of interest in pleasurable activities.
There are a couple of reasons why the increased use of social media may have contributed to a rapid rise in anxiety and depression. The rise of comparison culture on social media has caused people to constantly compare themselves to other people. Secondly, social media has created this fear of missing out.
We should also consider the influence of technology on sleep. Science shows that good quality sleep is essential for a healthy mind and body. Being low on sleep can really affect our mood. All these points are contributing to the belief that the rise in social media has exasperated symptoms of anxiety and depression.
comparing yourself to others
Social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat are filled with people posting images or videos of themselves ‘living their best life’. Sometimes people can compare their life to the life of someone they see on Instagram and feel like a failure.
Let’s take a look at an influential Instagram personality like Dan Bilzarian (32.5m followers). He is always at parties, surrounded by expensive cars and socialising with models and celebrities. Is this inspirational or does it evoke feelings of inferiority and jealousy in young people? These negative thoughts can translate to feelings of anxiety.
Personally, I have struggled with this. If I see someone my age doing way better than me I experience feelings of failure which can trigger my anxiety. I start to wonder why I have not achieved the same or better which has led to depression in the past.
Certain age groups and genders can be more vulnerable by comparing themselves to other people. Young people (especially women) may feel like they have to look a certain way. The Royal Society of Public Health found that 9 in 10 young females are unhappy with the way they look.
Constantly comparing yourself to others on social media can be damaging to your mental health and a form of self-sabotage. That is why it's important to develop a healthy relationship with social media.
fear of missing out
This can lead to anxiety and the urge to constantly check your phone to make sure you never miss out and stay in the loop. When people go online and realise they have missed an activity this can create a feeling of exclusion.
It can also make you want to portray yourself as a person who is also having fun. So when you are out with friends you are always taking pictures instead of enjoying the moment. A good example of this is live music concerts or festivals where everyone is filming the artist. If you are someone who has done this, have you ever watched back the footage? Or did it just get lost in your camera roll?
Feeling like you are missing out can create this feeling of exclusion and isolation which can lead to anxiety and depression.
causing sleep problems?
Scientists believe there is a strong correlation between the quality of someone's sleep and how they feel.
A 2018 study tied social media use to decreased, disrupted and delayed sleep. Checking social media right before you go to sleep can affect your sleep because the blue light emitted from the screen makes you feel more alert.
A recent poll on hospital staff and university students showed that 70% of people use social media when they are in bed. Furthermore 15% of these people reported using social media for up to an hour before going to bed.
Checking social media apps and worrying about other people’s lives instead of winding down before you go to bed can contribute to anxiety, which in turn would make it harder for you to sleep. Then when you do fall asleep, around 21% of adults wake up to check their phone at night.
Not being able to sleep will only lead to worse anxiety and depression because your mind has not been refreshed. It really is a vicious cycle. Sleep is vital for your physical and mental health.
All three factors appear to be contributing to a rise in anxiety and depression, especially among young people.
More research is continually being done to give us a clearer picture of the long-term impact of social media.
We recommend taking regular breaks from social media and noticing if you start to feel negative feelings as a result of your time scrolling.
Remember, there are always people to talk to if you need some support with your mental health. Connecting with people on the phone and in person can be beneficial to balance out your time spent scrolling.